2:00PM Water Cooler 12/10/2021 | naked capitalism


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I had planned to do a pantry clearout to make up for Monday and Tuesday, but fate intervened, and I spent time on administrivia. Hopefully next week will be better. –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

Another one of Darwin’s finches. With some kind of weird intermittent grnding or groaning noise in the background. Walruses? Penguins?

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#COVID19

On the word “mild.” To me, “mild” means “status quo,” i.e. “We’re enduring the present situation, and what is to come will be no worse.” Well, the present situation, whether you look at cases, deaths, or hospitalizations — isn’t mild at all. In a civilized country, 812,205 deaths — we lost 750,000 in the Civil War — would be regarded as a catastrophe. Yet we soldier on. It’s weird. I don’t understand the mass psychology at all.

Lambert here: From Yves’ cross-post this morning, it looks like CDC’s vaccination numbers are off, whether accidentally or on purpose we do not yet know. However, given that “Everything is like CalPERS,” one would certainly give consideration to the latter thesis. The question is how far the rot goes. It would be remarkable if CDC, so bungling in other respects, were able to game all all of its data (particularly since data collection and processing are so fragmented, and also because Johns Hopkins ought to be serving as a check). It also occurs to me that “Vax vax vax” gives CDC a strong incentive to massage that particular dataset, and the rationalization to do so; the public health establishment lies all the time, as we know. In any case, all the data is already known to be bad, because this is America. It’s useful to cross-check the official narrative, however, since nobody can look at cases, hospitalization, and deaths, even as they are, and assume that the pandemic is anything like over. The same was true for “Hot Vax Summer.” So, for now, I will carry on, but do add a truckload of salts to the Vaccination data. Of course, I could always curate a wastewater collection instead; there’s a reasonable number of them now.

Vaccination by region:

A roller coaster. More data problems? (I have also not said, because it’s too obvious, that if by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax.)

60.5% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, such as it is, as of December 9. Becker’s is pretty good for a trade journal. So we’ll watch to see what they say on CDC’s potentially massaged vax data.) We have broken the important 60% psychological barrier! Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above Taiwan in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday). Big jump today, a change from the stately 0.1% rise per day. I would bet that the stately rise = word of mouth from actual cases. Or perhaps the numbers are being managed, like earnings. However, as readers point out, every day those vaccinated become less protected from severe illness and hospitalization, especially the earliest. So we are trying to outrun the Delta… With Omicron coming up fast on the outside!

Case count by United States regions:

Fiddling and diddling (which often happens at peaks), now on the way down. As happened in 2020, I would expect a second, higher peak, from Omicron if for now other reason. The Midwest’s numbers are down, so here is that chart:

Not as encouraging as it might be. The drop, and hence a big part of the fiddling and diddling, is due to Michigan.

At a minimum, the official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” or that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), or “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is clearly problematic. (This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.)

One of the sources of the idea that Covid is on the way out, I would speculate, is the CDC’s modeling hub (whose projections also seem to have been used to justify school re-opening). Here is the current version of the chart from the CDC modeling hub, which aggregates the results of eight models in four scenarios, with the last run (“Round 9”) having taken place on 2021-08-30, and plots current case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model predictions (grey area), including the average of the aggregated model predictions (black line). I have helpfully highlighted the case data discussed above:

Case data (black dotted line) has been within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within aggregated predictions (the grey area).

I wrote: “It’s too early to say ‘Dammit, CDC, your models were broken’; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. The case data still looks like it’s trying to break out of the grey area. We shall see.” The case data has now broken out of the grey area (see at “Oopsie!”). Since the models are aggregated conventional wisdom, it’s not fair to call them propaganda, exactly. Nevertheless. conventional wisdom is looking a little shaky, and anybody who relied on them to predict that we would be “back to normal” by early next year should be taking another look at their assumptions. And this is — I assume — before Omicron!

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection, not updated:

Looks like a drop in the average, to me. We’ll see if gets choppy like last year, or not.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.

From CDC: “Community Profile Report” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties. Not updated:

More flecks of red. Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out.

The previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile), not updated:

I have helpfully highlighted the states where the “trend” arrow points up in yellow, and where it is vertical, in orange. (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 815,413 813,904. At this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid), not updated:

Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).

(Adding: I know the data is bad. This is America. Needless to see, this death rate is a public health debacle. It’s the public health establishment’s duty to take care of public health, not the health of certain favored political factions. Also adding: I like a death rate because it gives me a rough indication of my risk should I, heaven forfend, end up in a hospital.)

Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:

South Africa’s rise looks linear, even though this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

Politics

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Biden Administration

“It’s a Biden Boom—and No One Has Noticed Yet” [Washington Monthly]. “Based on the data, President Biden and the Democratic Congress are set to preside over the strongest two-year performance on growth, jobs, and income in decades—so long as the current cycle of inflation eases, and the Omicron variant does not trigger another round of shutdowns. The future paths of inflation and the pandemic are large and important unknowns—but if they break right, everything else points to a Biden boom through 2022…. Strong growth usually means healthy income gains, and the disposable income of Americans grew 3 percent after inflation over the 10 months from January to October. That far outpaces the gains of only 0.5 percent for the comparable period in 2019 and 1.7 percent in 2018. Wages and salaries comprise nearly all of most households’ incomes, and those earnings also are rising much faster than normal…. The main reason for the big increase in total wage and salary income is that 5,675,000 Americans who were unemployed when this year began had found new jobs by November.” • Well, the series ends in October. Not so good for Democrats if anything like 6.8% continues through six months or so before the 2022 election.

McConnell weighs in:

I wish the Democrats could “ram” something through. Anything!

“Biden set to make 1st late-night TV appearance as president” [NBC]. “Biden is set to appear Friday on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” with comedian Jimmy Fallon. Biden will appear virtually; the White House didn’t say where he will be when he tapes the segment. Biden has made two previous appearances on the show. He bantered with Fallon in April 2020, a week before he became the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, and in September 2016, toward the end of his eight years as vice president.” • Virtually. Oh.

“Jill Biden rejects ‘ridiculous’ concerns on president’s mental fitness” [The Hill]. “Jill Biden is dismissing any concerns about President Biden’s mental fitness, calling them ‘ridiculous.’ ‘I think that’s ridiculous,’ Biden says in an interview for this week’s ‘CBS Sunday Morning.’ Portions of the sit-down at Camp David with Rita Braver were released Thursday. Biden shook her head as Braver asked about some recent polling that the CBS News journalist described as showing ‘quite a few Americans have some questions about the president’s current mental fitness.’ A Politico/Morning Consult survey conducted last month found that only 46 percent of respondents agree that 79-year-old Biden ‘is mentally fit,’ while 48 percent disagreed.” • If you’re explaining, you’re losing.

Democrats en Deshabille

Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, the Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). ; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. . (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community. (Note that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.

For an example of the class power that the PMC can wield, look no further than RussiaGate. All the working parts of the Democrat Party fired on all cylinders to cripple an elected President; it was very effective, and went on for years. Now imagine that the same Party had worked, during Covid, to create an alternative narrative — see Ferguson et al., supra, to see what such a narrative might have looked like, and with the unions (especially teachers) involved. At the very least, the Biden Administration would have had a plan, and the ground prepared for it. At the best, a “parallel government” (Gene Sharp #198) would have emerged, ready to take power in 2020. Instead, all we got was [genuflects] Tony Fauci. And Cuomo and Newsom butchering their respective Blue States, of course. The difference? With RussiaGate, Democrats were preventing governance. In my alternative scenario, they would have been preparing for it.

And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.

Showing the PMC’s inability to govern, as a class they seem unable to expand their scope of operations into new fields. Consider the possibilities of the “Swiss Cheese Model.” Layered defenses include extensive testing, contact tracing, ventilation systems (not merely blue collar HVAC work, but design and evaluation), and quarantines. If we look at each layer as a jobs guarantee for credentialed professionals and managers, like ObamaCare, the opportunities are tremendous (and that’s before we get to all the training and consulting). And yet the PMC hasn’t advocated for this model at all. Instead, we get authoritarian followership (Fauci) and a totalizing and tribalizing faith in an extremely risky vax-only solution. Why? It’s almost as if they’re “acting against their own self-interest,” and I don’t pretend to understand it.

And I’m not the only one who’s puzzled. “Even if you…


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“Normalizing Corruption” {Daily Poster]. “‘Corruption robs citizens of equal access to vital services, denying the right to quality health care, public safety, and education,’ the Biden administration wrote Monday [report], adding that corruption ‘has been shown to significantly curtail the ability of states to respond effectively to public health crises.’ The Biden administration, as it turns out, is a perfect example of this: Every policy solution they propose involves some sort of corporate giveaway. This is the kind of institutionalized and legalized bribery that’s almost never discussed — the corruption that’s responsible for high health care costs and poor health care outcomes in the U.S., and that has made it effectively impossible for lawmakers to rationally respond to the COVID-19 pandemic here and around the globe. As if to drive the problem home, within hours of releasing their corruption report, the Biden White House was flailing on TV trying to defend an overly complex COVID testing plan that will keep Americans paying inflated retail prices for at-home tests with the hope that their health insurer will agree to reimburse them at some later point. This plan is wildly impractical, but it would be a boon for the same testing manufacturer that just so happened to start paying Biden’s former top aide shortly after Biden was elected president.” • Ouch. That petty? More: “One company that stands to benefit from this convoluted testing regime is Abbott Laboratories, which hired Biden’s former legislative affairs director Sudafi Henry shortly after the 2020 election. Abbott executives and employees donated $174,000 to Biden’s presidential campaign, according to OpenSecrets. Abbott has dominated the at-home test market in the U.S., in large part because the Biden administration has failed to quickly approve other rapid tests.”

2024

“UF researchers felt pressure to destroy COVID-19 data, not criticize DeSantis, report says” [Miami Herald]. “Fear of upsetting state officials is pervasive among faculty at the University of Florida, to the point that race-related references have been edited out of course materials and researchers felt pressure to destroy COVID-19 data, according to a report released Monday by a Faculty Senate committee…. The report discusses several ‘challenges’ faced by UF researchers who were working on COVID-19 with an unidentified state entity. It describes ‘external pressure to destroy’ data as well as ‘barriers’ to accessing, analyzing and publishing the numbers. Taken together, the report said, those problems ‘inhibited the ability of faculty to contribute scientific findings during a world-wide pandemic.’ The report further states that UF employees were told ‘not to criticize the Governor of Florida or UF policies related to COVID-19 in media interactions.’ It says they were told not to use their UF titles or affiliation in written commentary or to give oral presentations. And faculty at UF Health expressed concerns over funding being in jeopardy if they did not adopt the state’s stance on pandemic regulations in opinion articles, the report says. The allegations related to data destruction added a sense of urgency to the committee’s work, Wright said. ‘COVID research, it is life and death to not be able to do your job,’ Wright said. ‘To have your research that you’ve trained for so many years to be able to do, to have that research tabled, put on the shelf and ignored and not get it out there to the academic community to get it out there and see if it’s going to do any good.’” • DeSantis is making Cuomo look like a lightweight.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Latino civil rights organization drops ‘Latinx’ from official communication” [NBC]. “Domingo García, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization, has instructed staff and board members to drop the word “Latinx” from the group’s official communications. García sent the directive out in an email Wednesday night, addressed to Sindy Benavides, the league’s CEO; David Cruz, its communications director; and the LULAC board. ‘Let’s stop using Latinx in all official communications,’ García said, adding that it’s ‘very unliked’ by almost all Latinos.” • A breath of sanity, but still performative, but all these NGOs are performative by definition.

“Seattle’s Capitalists Couldn’t Defeat Kshama Sawant” [Jacobin (hemeantwell)]. “n a razor-tight race, Seattle’s socialist city council member Kshama Sawant beat off a recall attempt bankrolled by the city’s business interests. She won by just over two hundred votes in a race that went down to the wire. The outcome wasn’t determined until two days after the election, as mail-in ballots streamed in after election day. Six hundred ballots have been challenged and could still be counted, but they are not expected to change the recall’s outcome. Sawant won largely based on a concerted effort to get out the youth vote. Among all demographics, the eighteen to twenty-five cohort was the only one which increased its turnout from the most recent election, held only one month earlier. Three hundred more voters in that age group voted in this election compared to last month, and those three hundred were largely the margin of victory. To indicate the level of interest in the race: last month’s general election turnout was 43 percent. Turnout for the Sawant recall — a single-candidate special election — was 53 percent. Seattle’s capitalists have tried repeatedly to stamp out Sawant and her socialist politics from City Hall since her election in 2014. Repeatedly, they have failed.”

Stats Watch

Inflation: “United States Inflation Rate” [Trading Economics]. “Annual inflation rate in the US accelerated to 6.8% in November of 2021, the highest since June of 1982, and in line with forecasts. It marks the 9th consecutive month the inflation stays above the Fed’s 2% target as global commodities rally, rising demand, wage pressures, supply chain disruptions and a low base effect from last year continue to push prices up. Upward pressure was broad-based, with energy costs recording the biggest gain (33.3% vs 30% in October), namely gasoline (58.1% vs 49.6%). Inflation also increased for shelter (3.8% vs 3.5%); food (6.1% vs 5.3%, the highest since October of 2008), namely food at home (6.4% vs 5.4%); new vehicles (11.1% vs 9.8%); used cars and trucks (31.4% percent vs 26.4%); apparel (5% vs 4.3%); and medical care services (2.1% vs 1.7%). On the other hand, the inflation slowed for transportation services (3.9% vs 4.5%). Excluding food and energy, inflation went up to 4.9% from 4.6%, the highest since June of 1991.”

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Inflation: “U.S. inflation rate swells to 39-year high of 6.8% as Americans pay higher prices for almost everything” [MarketWatch]. “A string of higher-than-expected inflation readings since the summer is likely to push the Fed to speed up plans to phase out stimulus for the economy by the early spring, several months earlier than it had planned. Top central bank officials meet next week to plot their next step.Worried about the economic and political consequences, the White House has also moved to try to help untangle knots in the U.S. supply chain that are contributing to high inflation. Many goods and materials are in short supply and prices have risen as a result.”

Inflation: Tone-deaf liberal Democrat NGOs:

No. The average working class person pays for gas at the pump, food, and rent now. A tax break to install solar panels with capital you don’t have anyhow won’t help with that.

Retail: “CVS CEO Karen Lynch says smash-and-grab robberies fueled by online marketplaces” [CNBC]. ‘CVS Chief Executive Karen Lynch said the drugstore chain is pushing Congress and attorneys general to fight smash-and-grab crimes. She said online marketplaces are fueling organized crimes by allowing people to sell stolen goods. ‘What they’re doing is they’re taking our products off the shelf and they’re putting them online and we need to go after that,’ she said on CNBC’s ‘Power Lunch.’” • Lynch doesn’t actually name those online marketplaces, but given that Amazon is a cesspit of fraud, I’d expect it to be one of them.

Shipping: “The US’ biggest export this year was air, thanks to over 12 million empty shipping containers reportedly leaving ports” [Business Insider]. “In the first 10 months of the year, over 59% of shipping containers that left the nation’s 9 largest ports were empty, according to data collected by MarketWatch. The publication found that the US exported about 12.1 million empty shipping containers from January to October of this year. Over the past year, the number of empty containers that left the ports climbed over 46% from the previous year and nearly 38% from before the pandemic. At the same time, US imports have surged from elevated consumer demand… Demand for imported goods in America has made it far more lucrative for shipping companies to transport goods from Asia to the US than vice versa — meaning shippers are often in a hurry to return the container to China and skip the loading process in the US, Tran explained. ”

The Bezzle: “Space tourism is just a tiny piece of a risky new asset class” [Yahoo Finance]. “Cheaper launch services have helped make all this possible. A decade ago, NASA estimated it cost about $10,000/kilogram to lift a payload into low Earth orbit. Today that number is around $2,000/kg and there are projections that may go as low as $20/kg if and when SpaceX’s Starship vehicle becomes fully operational. And it’s not just the cost — it’s the pace and the variety of available vehicles that has moved the industry away from a few high profile, high risk launch events and towards a more economically sustainable launch on demand model.”

Tech: “The Dutch firm that investors are going wild over is now creating a machine that could redefine electronics” [CNBC]. “Dutch firm ASML, one of Europe’s hottest stocks, is working on a new version of its extreme ultraviolet lithography machine, which is used to carve patterns onto pieces of silicon that form the most advanced chips in the world. Headquartered in Veldhoven, a small village near the Dutch city of Eindhoven, ASML is the only firm in the world capable of making these highly complex EUV machines — but it’s not stopping there. The company’s current EUV machine is used by TSMC, Samsung and Intel to make chips that end up in the latest crop of computers and smartphones. But there’s a new version of the EUV machine in the pipeline, dubbed High NA, that could allow chipmakers to build even more sophisticated chips to power the next generation of electronic devices. NA stands for numerical aperture.”

Concentration: “Amazon Fined $1.3 Billion in Italian Antitrust Case” [Wall Street Journal]. “Italy’s antitrust regulator fined Amazon.com Inc. $1.3 billion, saying it harmed competitors by favoring third-party sellers that use the company’s logistics services, a decision that reflects increased scrutiny of tech giants by antitrust regulators globally. The regulator said Thursday that Amazon favored sellers in Italy that paid it to use its warehouse and delivery services, including by making them more likely to appear as the default option, or ‘Buy Box,’ when consumers click to buy a product. The fine of 1.13 billion euros is part of a wave of antitrust enforcement in Europe and elsewhere against Amazon and other big tech companies for allegedly abusing their dominance to squash smaller competitors.” • Cost of doing business.

The Fed: “Naughty or nice? What will the Fed do about the recovery next week?” [Claudia Sahm, Stay at Home Macro]. • Includes a Bingo card:

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 35 Fear (previous close: 33 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 20 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 8 at 12:01pm.

Health Care

Tape-watching the death rate in Guateng:

The Biosphere

“Why it’s time to study how rocket emissions change the atmosphere” [The Verge]. “Every time a rocket launches, it produces a plume of exhaust in its wake that leaves a mark on the environment. These plumes are filled with materials that can collect in the air over time, potentially altering the atmosphere in dangerous ways. It’s a phenomenon that’s not well-understood, and some scientists say we need to start studying these emissions now before the number of rocket launches increases significantly. It’s not the gas in these plumes that’s most concerning. Some rockets do produce heat-trapping greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, but those emissions are negligible, according to experts. “The rocket business could grow by a factor of 1,000 and the carbon dioxide and water vapor emissions would still be small compared to other industrial sources,” Martin Ross, a senior project engineer at the Aerospace Corporation who studies the effects of rockets on the atmosphere, tells The Verge. Instead, it’s tiny particles that are produced inside the trail that we need to watch out for, Ross says. Small pieces of soot and a chemical called alumina are created in the wakes of rocket launches. They then get injected into the stratosphere, the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that begins six miles up and ends around 32 miles high. Research shows that this material may build up in the stratosphere over time and slowly lead to the depletion of a layer of oxygen known as the ozone. The ozone acts like a big shield, protecting Earth against the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. However, the magnitude of this ozone depletion isn’t totally known, says Ross.” • I’m just leaving this here as a marker, after noting the, er, explosion of launch capacity in Stats. Do readers have more current information? Are these concerns overblown?

Groves of Academe

“The Quiet Scandal of College Teaching” [Jonathan Zimmerman, Liberties]. “A majority of college teachers are now adjunct or contract faculty. This is the third way we fail our students. If we really cared about their education, we would not slough it off on itinerant laborers. When I was in graduate school in the early 1990s, we were told that the old guard would retire and that we would get their jobs. That was right on the first count and wrong on the second one. Many professors did retire, but institutions replaced them by hiring adjuncts — at several thousand dollars per course — instead of new full-time faculty members. A fortunate few of us actually got hired onto the tenure track, which now feels like winning the lottery. Everyone else had to drive from campus to campus, picking up courses here and there and waiting for the real job (with a living wage, health insurance, and even a desk) that would never come. A quarter of part-time faculty rely on public assistance; some of them live in cars, and others have turned to sex work to make ends meet. In 2013, Pittsburgh newspapers reported the death of an adjunct professor who taught French for twenty years at Duquesne University. She never earned more than $20,000 in a year, so when her classes were cut she was rendered almost homeless. She died at 83, with no health insurance or retirement benefits. You would think that an institution so exquisitely attuned to “social justice” would bridle at this radically unjust situation. But a professor quoting the n-word out loud from a James Baldwin book generates vastly more indignation than the systematic exploitation of adjuncts, which barely registers on the campus outrage meter. We have made our undergraduates into accessories to this crime, and it is not clear how many of them know or care about it.” • Wieseltier‘s new venture. Good article, though!

Our Famously Free Press

“Fake Bump Conspiracy Theories Prove That Americans Still Can’t Handle Public Pregnancy” [Jezebel]. “The particulars of any specific fake pregnancy debate are nowhere near as significant as what it means to debate public pregnancies in the first place. ‘As we judge and regulate the bodies of pregnant celebrities,’ wrote legal scholar Renee Cramer, ‘we are simultaneously accepting and internalizing the very same regulations of ourselves.’…. Both invasive bump patrolling and anti-abortion campaigns take pregnant people’s bodies to be public property deserving of tight surveillance, with the former perhaps subtly easing the path for the latter. And of course, the contemporary highly-scrutinized pregnancy also offers many opportunities to sell things—including shapewear, workout regimens, diets, and self-help books. Pregnancy came out of confinement and entered directly into the marketplace. Until we locate a middle ground, somewhere between stigmatized invisibility and commodified surveillance, there will be more bump watching, shame, and accusations levied. At celebrities, yes, but also at the rest of us.” • “Bump” is another one of those words….

Poop Watch

Because you demanded it:




(Via AM.)

“Penguins shoot ‘poop bombs’ more than 4 feet, incredibly important study finds” [Live Science]. From 2020, still germane. “Over a decade ago, scientists had explored the pressure needed for chinstrap and Adelie penguins to expel poop along a mostly horizontal path, which they identified as penguins’ most common poop direction. For a new study, which appeared on the preprint site arXiv on July 2 and has not been peer-reviewed, another team of researchers analyzed a different fecal trajectory in Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti), which often poop in a descending arc away from their nests on higher ground. The team of scientists who first addressed the penguin poo puzzle published their results in 2003, in the journal Polar Biology; that pioneering study won the authors an Ig Nobel Prize in 2005 for fluid dynamics.”

Zeitgeist Watch

“J.P. Morgan’s million-dollar pocket watch vanished. The hunt for it became an obsession” [Los Angeles]. “But my search for the pocket watch didn’t pick up until I got a pivotal clue. It came from a descendant of Marie Antoinette’s mother.” • Oh, come on. I was nice, and didn’t put this under Guillotine Watch, but here we are. And–

“Cellist quits job to perform in NYC subway dressed like Marie Antoinette” (video) [NBC]. “The performer calls herself the “Baroque Barbie,” dressing like Marie Antoinette and playing classical music in New York City’s subway stations.”

Just to round out the section:




The Keds (?) are a nice, contemporary touch…..

Guillotine Watch

“Met Museum Removes Sackler Name From Wing Over Opioid Ties” [New York Times]. • Looking at you, Harvard!

Class Warfare

“The Dark Side of 15-Minute Grocery Delivery” [Bloomberg]. “When we think of resource frontiers, it calls to mind the rugged, glamorous classics: oil booms, gold rushes, or, in the not-so-distant future, asteroid mining. But the latest is closer to home. Whether you live in Manhattan, Hollywood, or beyond, the storefronts and sidewalks in your city are being mined. Over the last year, cities across the U.S. and Europe have seen a rapid rise in the number of dark stores — mini-warehouses stocked with groceries to be delivered in 15 minutes or less. Operated by well-funded startups such as Getir, Gopuff, Jokr and Gorillas, dark stores are quietly devouring retail spaces, transforming them into minimally staffed distribution centers closed to the public. In New York City, where seven of these services are currently competing for market share (including new entrant DoorDash), these companies have occupied dozens of storefronts since July, with expansion plans calling for hundreds more in that city alone.” • If street life in New York is dying, now you know one reason why.

News of the Wired

“MH370: Could missing Malaysian Airlines plane finally be found? [BBC]. “[Richard Godfrey, a British aeronautical engineer,] combined different data sets that were previously kept in separate domains, to align to this new location in the Southern Indian Ocean… Mr Godfrey said it was a ‘complicated exercise’, but previously there was simply a lack of lateral thinking, across multiple disciplines, to bring this together. ‘No one had the idea before to combine Inmarsat satellite data, with Boeing performance data, with Oceanographic floating debris drift data, with WSPR net data,’ he said. Mr Godfrey said work with a team has been progressing for a year now, and ‘we’ve done quite a lot of testing of this new idea and we’ve came to the confidence to apply it to MH370’…, The engineer’s new proposal is a circle radius of 40 nautical miles, far smaller than previous searches. ‘The wreckage could be behind a cliff or in a canyon on the ocean floor,’ he said. ‘And you need maybe three or four passes before you start to pick things up.’ The wreckage could lie as far as 4,000 metres deep, he added.”

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Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (Stephen V.):

Stephen V. writes: “Out of the corner of my eye…a feather? No. Just milkweed!”

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Readers, I could still use just a few more plants, so if you could send some photos to the address below, that would be great! I’d really like to see photos of harvests or completed projects, to inspire people to plan for spring over the winter. Also fall foliage? Thank you!

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Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the recently concluded and — thank you! — successful annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.

If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!

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